When will we learn?

Written By: - Date published: 11:35 pm, June 15th, 2011 - 8 comments
Categories: Mining, workers' rights - Tags: , , ,

Fascinating programme on TV One  Sunday this week; see it here and here – contrasting the Australian approach to mining with the disaster at Pike River. Outside the question of whether there were any survivors, the key difference was the existence of union safety check inspectors. The Australians use them, we don’t. They can shut the mine down if there is a safety issue. Not here. The reason – anti-worker ideology.

The difference has a history. The Health and Safety in Employment Act introduced in 1992 removed the Labour Department check inspectors and made the use of worker safety representatives an option not a requirement. Here’s an extract from Helen Clark’s speech at the time of the introduction of the law under a National government:

In a speech on 2 June the Minister (Bill Birch) said that the Bill and the Employment Contracts Act “should not be regarded as separate, unrelated pieces of legislation. Indeed, they knit together so well that I dare say they may well be regarded as a world leader in industrial law.” That will hardly increase any limited confidence in the Bill that workers might have had. In that speech the Minister went on to say: “Underlying all our reforms is the premise that the Government’s role is to enable management to take full responsibility for work-places so they can be run in the best and most appropriate manner. That is what the health and safety Bill sets out to do and what the Employment Contracts Act is achieving.” Frankly, to the Labour Opposition that statement strongly implies that the Minister considers the contribution that employees could make to better health and safety as being quite worthless. The Bill has no role for workers, and that is the Opposition’s primary criticism of it.

The Mining provisions were reviewed again in 2006. After receiving submissions, the Labour Department produced a report in September 2008. The report noted:

Submitters were polarised on employee participation, and whether to regulate for check inspectors. Worker perspective submitters see check inspectors as a small change and the most effective solution for improving safety in underground mining, whereas employer perspective submitters see check inspectors as overly prescriptive and inconsistent with the performance-based approach.

Then there was an election. The Minister of Labour, Kate Wilkinson, refused to consider worker check representatives, a decision that was welcomed by Solid Energy in 2009.

Then there was an explosion. Watch how the Aussies do it and judge for yourselves. If you were a worker where would you feel safer? Leaving it to management to as  Bill Birch said “take full responsibility” is not much use after the disaster has happened. After all, it is the workers who are down the mine, and miners have a long history of looking after each other.

8 comments on “When will we learn?”

  1. ZeeBop 1

    Don’t suffer fools lightly.

    We don’t want world class in NZ, we want to be like China.

  2. Colonial Viper 2

    It was made clear to me today that Australian mining engineers think that our attitude to safety systems and training in NZ mines is- in general (there are some exceptions) – a pathetic and foolhardy joke.

    Both Labour and National have had roles to play in this situation.

    • ZeeBop 2.1

      Desperate men do desperate things. NZ is desperate for a job and Key and his cohort
      are rubbing their hands in glee. People get paid when mines go up in smoke too you know.
      The truth is that when someone you know says something nasty about the unemployed,
      don’t argue sensibly with them, point out that everyone has to wait at the bus stop
      especially when the buses are running slow.
      That seeing better in others shows people how they can be. NZ is far too nastier a
      place, and its the Paul Henry types that keep the nasty pace up. And I rule the
      day I ever watched the morning breakfast when he was on. He might as well as
      caused the spark that day, for all the humanity he displaces in the off cuff way.

  3. tc 3

    Unions uphold not only safety but pay and other standards and its another one of the areas Oz contrast with us.
    They have strong unions, high membership rates which results in better pay and conditions…..unlike the outlook the nats are driving for here.
    The oz bloke on the Sunday show summed it up when he stated safety, or it’s lack of, was his major concern.

    • Colonial Viper 3.1

      Time for us to become far more unionised again. Workers are stronger acting together and speaking with one voice. National wants workers cowed and weakened.

  4. Jenny 4

    Due to contracting out the modern New Zealand workplace is a very dangerous place. To deal with this reality, rather than give any autonomy to the workers, management stuff the place with safety gurus, who only leave their office to lecture the workers on safety.

    But, nod nod wink wink, behind this blame the worker culture, sub-contractors are stuck in a vicious cycle of undercutting and competition to get the contracts.

    The hidden message is work harder or don’t get the work.
    Under contract legislation a contractor can be charged penalties or replaced at a moments notice by the main employer for underperformance.
    For older workers or for workers trying to keep up, or the workforce of a contractor who undercut to much to get the work, this means taking short cuts.

    Despite the roll of injury and death the last thing New Zealand employers will ever allow is the workers to have a say in their own safety.

    The original check inspectors weren’t given their role. It had to be wrested from the employers after a lot of blood and death

  5. vto 5

    Agree 100%

  6. Jeff 6

    Spoken like someone wh has never been on a construction site!

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